What We Learned: Predators keep gambling with smart bets

(Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.)

The way things have gone for the Predators lately, it’s like great things just keep dropping on their laps.

The Montreal Canadiens, so desperate to become harder to play against, gave them an elite defenseman for an older, slightly less expensive, worse counterpart. Half the young players on the roster broke out in one way or another last season. They went to the Stanley Cup Final and, if not for a few key injuries and maybe a bad game or two in net, might have done a lot better.

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The good news was that, even with the series loss, most agreed: This was a team set up for the present and future. Almost everyone of any importance on the roster was not only under the age of 30 but comfortably so. Almost everyone of any importance was signed fairly long-term and pretty cheap. And some of those very important players were still on the come-up in their careers, having not yet reached the age at which NHLers peak.

What, for example, does Filip Forsberg look like four years from now, when he’s still only 26? What of newly re-signed Viktor Arvidsson, still just 24? Or Calle Jarnkrok, who’s only 25? Or 21-year-old Kevin Fiala? Or 24-year-old Ryan Johansen?

The D-corps is older, sure, but not appreciably so. Average age of what will probably be their top-six next season: 28 years old almost on the button. Not exactly young but still close enough to the primes of their careers that it basically doesn’t matter, especially because these are hardly average NHLers; barring a trade for a little more pop up front, their No. 5 defenseman (Alexei Emelin) played 21-plus minutes a game last season for a different team. They got him basically for nothing, a third-round pick.

That was a vital pickup because anyone who watched the Cup Final saw how little Peter Laviolette trusted his third pair against what the Penguins were putting over the boards. Say what you want about Emelin’s performance the past few years, but if he’s your No. 5 you’re in pretty good shape. That’s probably also the case if he’s your clear No. 4.

Still, David Poile might still have some misgivings about his offense headed into next season.

He lost James Neal, who scored 23 goals in 70 games last season, for nothing in the expansion draft. Mike Fisher might retire. He replaced those players, seemingly, with Scott Hartnell and Nick Bonino. Not bad, obviously, and the combined price of $5.1 million against the cap obviously beats what Poile paid last year for the players they ostensibly replace ($9.4 million). And that goes without mentioning Fisher, who would need to be re-signed, is 37 and would probably be pretty inexpensive.

But what’s amazing about Poile, and has been for a while, is his ability to lock in players when they’re very young at prices not exactly commensurate with either what they’ve done or where they’ve headed.

The vast majority of this team’s best players is locked up for at least the next three seasons, and almost all of them are on value contracts Poile dove at when he had the opportunity.

That’s seven guys he locked up right around their primes for long-term deals at AAVs even the biggest detractors would have to acknowledge deliver tremendous value.

The Arvidsson deal, signed this weekend, is probably the latest in the line, with the acknowledgement that seven years is a long time and he’s unlikely to shoot 12.6 percent again this coming season, even if he is just 24. All the underlying numbers say this is kid a big-time player, and that’s true regardless of whether you’re suspicious he’s a perennial 30-goal guy (because almost no one is a perennial 30-goal guy). And the fact that he costs just $4.25 million against the cap, well, that gives him an AAV on par with Brian Gionta and Justin Abdelkader. That’s value, plain and simple, especially because Arvidsson is now locked up into his early 30s.

Every contract in this league, where contracts are guaranteed except in the case of buyouts, is a risk. Forsberg could blow his knee out tomorrow and never play again, but you have to take a calculated look at what kind of value a player will provide over the term of the deal and, if you’re the team, you hope his contributions exceed the value of the dollars you pay out. It’s a cap league, so you only have so many dollars to distribute, and for every dollar you save on a bargain deal for a Ryan Ellis can go toward a slight overpay for a PK Subban.

That’s not to say the Predators don’t have problem contracts, but if Pekka Rinne is your biggest issue by a mile, you’re in great shape.

All this goes without mentioning that Poile and Co. still have two pieces of business to attend to this summer before they can head to the cabin: Austin Watson (relatively easy and cheap since he only had 17 points last season; he’s asking for just $1.4 million in arbitration and probably won’t get that much), and Ryan Johansen (probably not particularly easy or cheap since he is the team’s clear No. 1 center).

But this is where the value an Arvidsson or Jarnkrok or even Forsberg provides comes in handy. The Preds have basically their entire core locked up and more than $14.5 million to spend. Whatever you think Watson and, perhaps, Fisher cost, lump those in with a Johansen contract — which one imagines won’t exceed $8 million — and you’re comfortably under the cap with an entire young Western Conference-winning roster ready to go.

That Arvidsson contract is a steal. If Poile gets Johansen to come in around just $7 million, that’ll be a miracle, and it’s not outside the realm of possibility. And that gives them plenty of flexibility for two years from now, when Ellis, Kevin Fiala, and maybe Colton Sissons and Pontus Aberg need new deals.

The extent to which this team is set up to be competitive for at least the next three years is truly incredible. I talked last week about how Tampa is in a good spot in this regard, but theirs does not begin to compare with Nashville’s. No one’s does.

Would most GMs in this league trade team captain/franchise defenseman Weber for an, ahem, “controversial” player like Subban? I’m not sure. Would they trade a future franchise defenseman in Seth Jones for a reported malcontent with work ethic problems like Johansen? Would they be willing to go this long-term with so many young players all at once? Probably not.

Poile’s biggest asset is likely his fearlessness when it comes to pulling the trigger if it’s going to help the team, as well as his ability to accurately project talent long-term. Which is why Nashville is set up to be an elite club for years.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: The thing in this headline simply does not exist.

Arizona Coyotes: Jordan Martinook is a very nice little bottom-six, penalty-killing signing that helps the Coyotes a decent amount.

Boston Bruins: Great story about how the Bruins went and got some kid from Parry Sound, Ontario, named Bobby Orr.

Buffalo Sabres: You’d be forgiven if you thought, like everything else to do with the Sabres these days, Cliff Pu’s dad used to play for them or something. He didn’t. I checked.

Calgary Flames: Oh nooooooo.

Carolina Hurricanes: Ah, finally, the Hurricanes are getting into the whole big Arena Debate.

Chicago: One thing that is definitely going to happen is everyone will act like it’s an incredible disappointment when Chicago doesn’t come all that close to winning a Cup.

Colorado Avalanche: Surprised there hasn’t been more talk about the possibility (see also: likelihood) that Hobey Baker-winning defenseman Will Butcher becomes an unrestricted free agent on Aug. 15. He’s small for a defenseman — 5-foot-10 — and 22 years old but he probably helps any team he signs with on some level.

Columbus Blue Jackets: I’m sorry, the what?

Dallas Stars: The Stars’ problem has never been up front.

Detroit Red Wings: Jeff! Why say stuff like this!

Edmonton Oilers: This team rules.

Florida Panthers: Ian McCoshen is gonna be a good defenseman one day soon. I’m telling you.

Los Angeles Kings: The Kings have a lot of problems, near as I can tell, and I don’t know how they even begin to go about addressing them any time soon. I should write about this later this summer if I remember.

Minnesota Wild: Uhh, no pressure or anything, though.

Montreal Canadiens: One great way to deal with fans after a disappointing season is to, umm, piss them off and gouge them? That doesn’t sound right, but okay.

Nashville Predators: For a first-time NHL assistant, this isn’t a bad situation to come into.

New Jersey Devils: I bet all NHL players want to be future Hall of Famers. Yeah.

New York Islanders: Oh yeah, sure, don’t be worried about this whole Tavares thing. I guarantee that advice will be… heeded.

New York Rangers: The Rangers might start the season with eight defensemen.

Ottawa Senators: Nate Thompson is very wrong.

Philadelphia Flyers: Hmm well, saying Nolan Patrick should be a good NHL player because Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine, Connor McDavid, and Jack Eichel were good NHL players in ‘draft year plus-1,’ that actually makes perfect sense and is very smart.

Pittsburgh Penguins: The Penguins might trade for a center before the season. Ooo, it should be Joe Thornton.

San Jose Sharks: Yeah you can tell they like Mario Ferraro because they super-reached for him in the second round. You don’t do that unless you absolutely love a player.

St. Louis Blues: The question is, “wiggle room” to do what, exactly?

Tampa Bay Lightning: Last week Elliotte Friedman suggested that John Tavares might take less to go to Tampa. People are understandably flipping out.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Despite some weird stuff on the periphery I think we have to conclude Lou Lamoriello has done a mostly good job running the Leafs, right?

Vancouver Canucks: This is one of those stories where it’s like, “The body of this can be one word.” In this case, the word is “last.”

Vegas Golden Knights: This team still has 12 defensemen under contract! Good lord!

Washington Capitals: Andre Burakovsky seems like a decent candidate to break out, but what does a guy with 38 goals in almost 200 career games “breaking out” look like? Scoring 20? Okay, sure. Twenty goals.

Winnipeg Jets: Too bad about the defense and coach, though, isn’t it?

Gold Star Award

Sign Jagr.

Minus of the Weekend

Still thinking about this one. C’mon Gary.

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Year

User “avsfan9” almost can’t be an Avs fan, right?

David Savard
Ryan Murray
2018 first round pick

FOR

Matt Duchene
Tyson Barrie

 

Signoff

Who’d have thought a whale would be so heavy?

 

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

(All stats via Corsica unless otherwise noted.)

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